Getting Back to the Magic – Walt Disney World Resort & Universal Orlando Resort
By Tammy Bellotti, Magical Moments Vacations Agent
MMV Agent Tammy Bellotti recently got Back to the Magic of the Orlando theme parks! She and her family visited both Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World, and here she shares details of her visit with an eye to sharing up to the minute info & tips about how visits to the theme parks at this time are different, safe, and still magical.
PHOTO CREDITS: MMV AGENTS TAMMY BELLOTTI (UNIVERSAL) AND ASHLEY EBEY (DISNEY)
After several blissful days spent between Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World, I am happy to report that both entities are doing an excellent job with their efforts to mitigate the risks imposed by Covid. They are doing a fantastic job of continuing to offer their own unique brands of magic, that we have all come to know and love. Each company has gone above and beyond to create a safe environment for all.
Signage, social distancing, hand sanitizer stations, and masks are everywhere you look. Both resorts will gently remind you to adjust your mask, if anyone in your travel party allows theirs to slip below their nose, at any time. It is difficult to walk past a hand sanitizer station, without stopping for a little squirt.
Here I’m sharing information and practical tips about what to expect and how to best plan your visits to Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World Resort.
Both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando continue to offer transportation throughout their properties.
Boat service is not currently an option at Disney, while it is still available at Universal. Both companies have continued their bus service. Seats are marked to allow for social distancing. When more than a couple of families are utilizing the bus at one time, drivers will assign passengers seats with their travel party, keeping social distancing practices in mind.
We opted to rent a car this time around, for the sake of efficiency in traveling between the resorts. While GPS comes in handy, the areas in the resorts are well marked, getting around is not an issue.
Prior to entering any of the Disney Parks or Disney Springs Disney, you can expect to have your temperature checked. This can result in multiple checks throughout the day, depending on how you come and go between the theme parks and Disney Springs. However, our temperatures were not checked when visiting Disney resorts.
When you stay on property at Universal, you will have your temp checked when you arrive at your resort, as you enter. Once you are cleared, you receive a wristband that is the designated color for that day. Each morning, you head to the resort lobby for your temp check before heading out.
At Universal, you only have to wait for one temp check each day. You simply show your wristband when entering City Walk, Volcano Bay, or when entering theme parks. Non-resort guests are temp checked at security when entering City Walk, the gateway to all things Universal.
Park Entry – Capacity Limitations
Both entities are operating their theme parks under a reduced capacity. Disney is requiring a park reservation, prior to arrival. Where Universal is controlling their capacity at the gates. Disney’s process guarantees you access to the park because you’ve made a reservation in advance. Universal is operating on a first come first serve basis, in their parks. However, Universal resort guests can take advantage of exclusive early park admission, with their resort stay, as well as with stand-alone tickets purchased through a Magical Moments Vacations agent.
When visiting Universal, you will want to keep in mind that they are offering staggering discounts for Florida residents until the end of the year. Floridians converge on both the resorts and the parks for long weekends. Weekdays, however, are much lighter in attendance.
Dining is a special time during any vacation. But even more, special these days, because it’s a “mask free” time when visiting both Disney and Universal. There are however some differences between the two.
While in both sets of parks, you are expected to use their mobile ordering systems for meals. Volcano Bay is the exception to this rule because more than likely you will not have your phone with you, in a water park. The general rule of thumb is that you sit to eat. Walking around the park eating is not encouraged and you may be asked to take a seat.
SCREENSHOTS OF UNIVERSAL ORLANDO APP AND MY DISNEY EXPERIENCE APP
At our Universal resort, the food court set up remained pretty much the same as the pre-Covid days. They will limit the number of people into the food court service area at one time, to allow for social distancing. But you are able to walk up and order your food, or use their grab and go options. The waits were minimal, if at all. In addition, they are only using a portion of the dining room, with tables closed in order to allow social distancing. The self-service stations were slightly modified. Guests ordering soft drinks, gave the attendant a chip, for the drink they purchased with their meal. For those that purchased re-fillable mugs, the attendant filled coffee and tea for the guest. Soft drinks were able to be refilled by the guest, in a resort refillable mug, utilizing Coca Cola Freestyle machines. Condiments, coffee creamer, and sugars were also handed to the guest by the attendant.
Disney handled their food courts somewhat differently. Gone are the days of the grab and go food court. No more placing an order for hot food and waiting for it to be prepared. Everything in the food court must now be ordered from the mobile app. The app asks you to choose a time frame for when you would like your food to be ready. Then once that window arrives, it will ask you if you are there. We found through trial and error, (in addition to receiving advice from the lovely hostess at the Riviera Resort) that you will want to wait to order until you arrive. You will want to also choose the option stating you are waiting for your food. This will allow you to receive your food hot and fresh. Oftentimes if you pick a time slot, for when you wish to eat or plan to arrive, they will either make the order when you place it or not start until you expect it to be complete. This results in, either cold food or longer than necessary wait times. Resort refillable mugs have somewhat of a different feel at Disney these days as well. You can still purchase the mugs, but don’t plan to use them. You just carry them. You will show the attendant at the drink station your mug, tell them what you would like, & they give it to you in a disposable mug. Sorry kids, no more trying a little bit of every soft drink at once. At Disney, you are able to get your own condiments. No attendant needed.
Both Disney and Universal food courts are currently only open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. In addition, City Walk & Disney Springs also close at 10 pm. As someone who began traveling to both Disney and Universal when her children were small, this made me nervous. You will want to plan ahead if you happen to have a late arrival. As there is nowhere to eat after 10 p.m.
Universal resorts are not presently offering housekeeping services. However, they take your cell phone number at check in to send you a welcome text. This text suggests that you reply to that thread for anything you might need or with questions that may arise. We were a travel party that included three girls, with a lot of hair between us. I immediately ordered extra bath towels and toiletries. I also make it a habit of ordering extra pillows. This helps when sleeping in a new bed or place. They arrived within minutes.
Disney is allowing you to choose no housekeeping or every other day service. Disney has a similar option to text. However, it took a bit of digging for me to find it in their app. Once I initiated the chat, I was sent a separate form, that validated both my identity as well as my reservation number with Disney. It took some extra time to complete this, as I had to dig through my email to find my original resort reservation. I was also asked to provide them with my name, address, My Disney Experience email address, etc. But eventually, my pillows, extra towels, and toiletries were sent to my room.
Shopping & Arcades
Stores at Disney are closely monitored in order to control the number of people in any one place at any one time. This was not something we encountered at Universal. However, there was never a time the store we were in was crowded or lacked the ability to social distance.
At this time, Disney will no longer send your purchases back to your resort for you. We decided to shop at the beginning of our theme park visit and rented a locker, so as to not have to carry our bags around all day. Universal, however, is still able to send your purchases back to the resort, and or will send them to a designated pick-up location at the front of the park you are visiting. Please be sure you will be in the Universal park for a minimum of three hours when utilizing this option.
Arcades at Disney are not open at this time. They are open at Universal, but capacity controlled.
After months of shutdown, both Disney and Universal have gone above and beyond to open their doors and welcome their guests back, in the safest manner possible. Each plan is unique to the personality of the individual company. While one thing remains consistent between the two: it’s time to get back to the magic.
Do you want to Get Back to the Magic too? Let a Magical Moments Vacations agent help you book & plan your trip! MMV is an Award-Winning, TOP 5 DIAMOND EarMarked Agency with Disney Destinations! And, we are a Top Producing Universal Parks & Resorts Agency as well. Our agents have multiple specialties and can guide you to a variety of amazing vacation destinations. Reach out to YOUR MMV Agent, or if you don’t have one, request a quote, and one of our agents will reach out to you.
Update: On September 25th, Governor Ron DeSantis placed the state of Florida into the “Green Phase” of their Covid-19 mitigation efforts. It removes all remaining state-level restrictions on businesses, including on bars and restaurants, allowing a general right to work and to operate a business. While local governments can still limit and regulate businesses, they are no longer able to close businesses because of coronavirus concerns. In addition, governments will not be able to prevent restaurants from operating at below 50% capacity. Local jurisdictions will no longer be able to impose restrictions without an economic and health-based justification for it.
Following the Governor’s announcement, Walt Disney World released the following statement:
“We received the Governor’s executive order and are evaluating it to determine what it may mean for our business. We are not making any immediate changes. As a reminder, face coverings are still required at Walt Disney World Resort.”
At the time this article was published, I was unable to locate an official statement from Universal Orlando Resort.
Please note: The Covid-19 situation is a fluid and can be ever-changing. Both companies mentioned in this post, reserve the right to alter and or remediate any of their current policies discussed in this article at any time.
About the Author
Tammy Bellotti’s career as a Travel Agent began with Magical Moments Vacations in 2010.
Tammy is a Top 25 agent with MMV and takes deep pride in her relationships with her clients, industry reps, and her colleagues. For Tammy, being a travel agent is more than a career, it’s a way of life.
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